Shall I; shan’t I

sardinesShall I; shan’t I, were the words going through my head as I stood in front of the tinned sardines in tomato sauce? I was doing my weekly shop at the local supermarket, and by pure accident, I was walking past the shelves stacked with tinned sardines. There were all sorts there: sardines in olive oil, sardines in brine, sardines with lemon, grilled sardines; in fact sardines in or with whatever you fancied. However, the only ones I could not take my eyes off were the sardines in tomato sauce.

Why this dilemma you may well ask. I am a vegetarian and I do not eat meat or any food derived from living creatures, I find even the smell of raw meat repulsive, yet for some reason I do like fish. I will freely admit to buying salmon and prawn pie, smoked haddock and prawns in the past, but my excuse for this is that they were impulse buys, and they were all screaming “EAT ME!” at me. I therefore did not feel too guilty when I eat and enjoyed them.

The root of this quandary was a conversation in the office when we were talking about food that we used to enjoy, but had not had for a long time. Someone mentioned sardines in tomato sauce on toast, as soon as it was mentioned it my mouth started to water, it was also something I used to love, but had totally forgotten. I even said, “I’ll get some on the way home”, and then I remembered that I am a vegetarian, “Damn!”

I have been tempted to buy some sardines ever since that conversation. The dilemma was caused because this time there was no rush of blood to my head leading to an impulse buy. This would be pre-planned purchase. Eventually, I said, “Shall” and bought the damned sardines. They were delicious, on toast with loads of butter and light sprinkling of Black Pepper. Do I feel guilty – will I buy them again? Yes to both, I think I can live with the guilt.





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Roly-Poly Hill


badger (Photo credit: megankhines)

Last year, I visited a friend at their new house; as soon as I arrived, there was a feeling of familiarity, a sense of déjà vu, not for the house, but the place – the area: even though I had never been to that house or street in my life.  Later that evening while sat, as usual, in front of my computer in suddenly dawned on me – it was “Roly-Poly”!  Roly-Poly Hill to give it its full name; a place where I, with many other local children had spent countless hours playing and exploring; among other things we used to go to the top of the hill, lie on our sides then roll to the bottom through grass, mud and cow-pats.  Getting ourselves disgustingly filthy and smelly, it really was fantastic fun.  Of course, our parents, phandwasharticularly our mums did not enjoy it at all.  They had to wash not only us, but hand wash our clothes as well; this was in the days (the 1950’s) when washing machines were a status symbol not easily afforded by working class families, and mums were expected to do all the dirty work.

Roly-Poly was a perfect natural playground, it had everything a young child  of six or seven needed to amuse themselves; there was a wood with a badger’s sett and bluebells, a steep hill which doubled as a toboggan run in the winter, and a river with a lovely muddy cattle-drink. The bank of the river had Alders and Hazels growing through a thick undergrowth of brambles along most of its edge.  The brambles were laced with tunnels and ‘secret’ hiding places made by wildlife and children.  During spring and early summer, the brambles would be full of a varied selection of birds’ nests: Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Wrens, Robins and Nuthatches to name but a few.  In the river, there was a large fallen Alder; it must have been there many years because the bank on the far side had been undercut by the river as it flowed around the tree.  The tree although fallen was very much alive, in summer its branches formed a mini-forest which appeared to be growing from the surface of the river.

The wood too was a fascinating place; it had a very old oak tree, which at its foot had the badger’s sett going through its roots.  Sometimes late in the evening in the summer the badgers would come out and start snuffling around.  It was a deciduous wood with one lone conifer, a Japanese cedar, perhaps an escapee from an ornamental garden, on its edge; in winter, the needles would turn from bluish green to very deep red, then back to bluish green in the spring.  The wood was also the home for at least one pair of Green Woodpeckers, who could be heard hammering away at the trees for much of the day, and Rooks had colonised the treetops with a very large rookery; they never seemed to stop caw cawing.

Sadly Roly-Poly is no more, the steep hill is now a shallow incline the woods and the badgers have gone, though the oak tree remains.  The riverbank has been cleared, and the river straightened.  The landscape now looks very sterile and lifeless, with pavements, tarmac, lampposts and lines of identical houses.

Seeing Roly-Poly as it is now, set me to thinking of some of the other places where I used to play and explore as a child.  Places like Pig’s Loose Lane, Ram’s Horn Bridge and sw otterArcher’s Island – where I saw both my first otter and first lamprey, I remember how excited I was when I saw the otter; I still get that same thrill now whenever I am lucky enough to see one.  The lamprey was fascinating: a long eel-like fish, with what seemed like a continuous fin running down its back and right around its tail.  It had noLamprey jaws, instead of a conventional mouth it had a circular sucker, a pad with minute teeth; as it swam upstream it would stop every two or three feet and appear to rest by using its sucker to attach itself to a convenient stone, so that it would not be swept back downstream by the current.  Archer’s Island was a rather grandiose name for the island, which was just a bank of gravel and grit; it was however, still an island…

Ram's Horn BridgeRam’s Horn Bridge is still there, it is now almost hidden by trees and bushes, and it is where the ford joined Hovelands Lane to Hovelands Hill, about fifty yards or so to the East of Galmington Bridge.  I have since learned that it was a packhorse bridge, and dates back to the 16th Century or earlier.  The ford was and maybe still is a good place to catch Bullheads and Stone Loaches.  Not far from the bridge there was an orchard, it had some of the best tasting and juiciest apples I have ever tasted.  I do not know what sort they were but they were about the size of a tennis ball, and pale green with a pinkish tinge round the top.  The orchard has gone, and in its place, we have a launderette, a fish and chip shop, a hairdresser’s and Galmington Road; hardly a fair exchange for those delicious apples.

Pig’s Loose Lane is halfway down Netherclay Hill on the left-hand side going from Bishop’s Hull to Silk Mills; the lane is in fact a footpath, which runs along the wall of Netherclay House on the edge of a small orchard that was used to raise free-range pigs, hence the name Pig’s Loose Lane.  Just past the orchard – there is a forked junction, to the right there is a narrow bridge over the River Tone. The bridge leads to a footpath to the original silk mill; I am pleased to say that otters can again be seen in the feeder stream to the mill.  Straight on leads down past what were the vegetable gardens and orchard for Netherclay House; they were behind a large hedge that was covered in wild honeysuckle and Old Man’s Beard, during the summer the scent of the honeysuckle was so strong that it pleasantly masked the smell of the pigs.  Pig’s Loose Lane ended at an open field, but the footpath carried on to Fideoake and Freethy passing Archer’s Island on the way. K Gate To ensure that the pigs could not wander away from the orchard there were three kissing-gates on Pig’s Loose Lane; one at each end and one at the bridge, the gate onto the road was wooden, the other two were iron.

I have tried not to use rose-coloured spectacles when writing this – if I have done so here and there – please forgive me; remember these memories are nearly fifty years old and it comes as quite a shock to see how much things have changed. The places may have changed, but in my mind, I will always remember them as they were…

The Photograph of Ram’s Horn Bridge is from

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A lesson learned…

DepressionFor some months, maybe more, my mental health had been declining very rapidly, though I did not notice it at the time, I believed the “Happy Face” mask that I religiously put on every morning for the rest of the World.  I had been putting that face on for so many years; it became part of my daily routine, just like brushing my teeth or taking a shower.  However, each day I would go to work and take on other people’s problems without even realising that I had my own problems.

Just before Christmas I had finally managed to give up anti-depressants, I had been taking them for ages, from my teens in fact, and I am quite ancient now.  I did at least have the sense to do it by gradual dose reduction, although I did not tell my Doctor what I had done until last week, three months after I had taken my last anti-depressant.  During the decline I put my feelings and sometimes-extreme fatigue down to the short days of winter, not going out enough, going out too much, reading too much, not getting enough sleep, sleeping too much, in fact anything to avoid the truth. 

The truth being that I was slap bang in the middle of another episode of depression brought about by overworking, taking on too much, not delegating, a host of other things, and unhealthiest of all – not leaving the Advocacy Partners problems in the filing cabinet when I left work.  On top of all that, there was the tension caused by office politics. Of course, all of this is said with the wisdom of hindsight.  I just could not see it at the time, others may well have done, but I did not.

Then on Wednesday the 16th of January, I had what turns out to have been a very lucky, possibly lifesaving, accident; I had a fall and fractured my femur and hip, those of you who have read my two previous blogs will already know this.  You may well be asking how an accident, which immobilised me and put me in hospital for a month can be considered as lucky.  The answer is that it put a very large full stop on my working life.  Understandably, at the time I did not consider myself lucky all I could think about were the appointments I would miss, the meetings I could not attend and my Advocacy Partners, I still could not turn my brain off.  For the first couple of weeks I was still wearing my mask, except on the day of my operation where I was on an anaesthetic high, and did not have a care in the World.

Gradually things eased, and I realised that I would not be going back to work in the near future, and that I had to concentrate on getting better, meaning recuperating from the results of my fracture, not my poor mental health.  My recuperation for that came as a side effect of my physical recuperation.  I was and am concentrating so hard on that, that I pushed all thoughts of work from my mind.  Effectively giving my mind something else to think about, thereby giving it a much-needed rest.

I then transferred to Dene Barton Hospital where the physiotherapy was much more intense, the Physiotherapist was much keener than the one in my first hospital.  On top of that, I now had an Occupational Therapist; this was the real turning point in both my physical and mental health recovery.  They both radiated enthusiasm, which was contagious; they both really wanted and want me to get better.  Two weeks later, I was discharged; even though I was now at home the therapy continues by way of home visits.  I even get someone to help me with the transition from crutches to sticks; you could say that she takes me for ‘walkies’.

All the time that I had been concentrating on regaining the use of my leg; I was unknowingly improving my mental health; it was not until last Wednesday that I finally realised that I had had depression: an Advocacy Partner rang me to ask for help.  She was desperate; I had known her for almost a year and knew both her and her case well, I also knew that she would never have called me unless she had no other choice.  Therefore, I agreed that I would try to help her.  I then called the agency, which was causing the problem, and one other agency that may have been able to help.  As I was talking to these agencies I could feel my brain beginning to ‘knot-up’, I could also feel the tension building throughout my body.  These were feelings and sensations that I had not felt since before the accident.  Before the accident I had grown to accept those feelings as normal, whereas now I know that they are not normal, they are a symptom or warning that something is very wrong.  I resolved the Advocacy Partner’s issue and then tactfully explained to her that I would be unable to help her again until I was back at work.

Later on in the afternoon I rang my line-manager, explained what had happened and said that I would not being doing that again, that I would wait until I was back at work, and fully recovered before starting to try to help my Advocacy Partners.  I must also make it clear that my line-manager did not ask me to do what I did; it was my decision, albeit the wrong one.

I am not going to make any changes to the routine, which I adopted when I was discharged from hospital, that routine is working on both fronts, mental and physical.  Plus the fact that on top of the routine, I am doing things which I never had time for when I was working, things, such as reading though the mountain of ‘must’ read books, using my camera again, writing, and probably most important of all meditation, which I think is a major factor in my gradual recovery from depression.  One thing I definitely will not be doing is resorting to anti-depressants again.

There are many thousands of people with all sorts of mental illnesses, who do not know that there is something wrong.  I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to recognise mine, and to do something about it.



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Becoming Independent Again

I have recently been discharged from hospital after breaking my hip and femur.  A day, which I had been longing for; however, the discharge came with conditions such as having physiotherapy at home, visits from my Occupational Therapist, scans and X-Rays, blood tests, seeing my Doctor more in the last two weeks than I have seen her in the last two years and having a carer.


Very few things are as humbling as having to have a carer.  It is a time when you must admit to yourself that you can no longer cook your own meals, take a shower, make the bed or even dress without help and someone there to make sure that you that you do not fall or hurt yourself.  For me it has also been a very positive experience, I am fortunate enough to know that with grit and determination that I can become independent again, I am one of the lucky ones; there are many more discharged from hospital after an accident or severe illness that will never be able to be independent again.

I live alone, and enjoy living alone; it came as very strange experience when I had to let a stranger into my home twice a day to take care of me.  The carers are very cheerful pleasant people; they are understanding and possess that most important gift: the one of empathy.  Although, there is one that is not quite as understanding and as empathic as she could be; but she is the exception rather than the rule.

Immediately after my discharge, my day would begin with my carer arriving at about eight-thirty in the morning.  However, because it takes me a long time to get moving I get up at about seven-thirty so that I am reasonably mobile when the carer arrives.  The carer would then help me with my shower, make the bed, prepare my lunch, make sure that I had breakfast, make me a cup of tea, have a chat and if my waste bin was full, take the rubbish out.  The chat was and is very important; it helps to maintain my need for communication with the outside world.  That said, I have some very good friends who either visit or meet me for a coffee or a pint; they may not realise it, but their friendship is a major factor and driving force in my recovery process.  I count myself as very lucky to have such good friends!

In the evening my carer would return and prepare my evening meal and check on how I was, I no longer have an evening carer I prepare my own meals, to be honest I was fed up with microwave meals and scrambled egg on toast.  The time in between my carers visits, or as it is now, after my carers visit, is not empty time, far from it.  I have a whole series of exercises to do throughout the day; these are mainly to help me regain the flexibility and strength in my leg, I must also go for increasingly longer walks each day, now with crutches, later with sticks.  Since the operation, I have had Oedema in my right leg; that is why I wear a slipper on my right foot.  In the morning, I go for a walk, after which, I must sit down with my foot up for two hours to reduce the swelling, which can be painful.  In the afternoon, I again have to sit down with my foot up for one hour, after a shorter walk plus exercises.  It may sound boring to you, to have to keep doing the same thing each day; but it is far from it.  I can see and feel the progress I am making, because I walk a little further a little faster, my leg is getting stronger and suppler, therefore each day I achieve a little more, knowing this, almost forces me to try harder.  I know now that I will become independent again, sooner rather than later: even though my recovery has, been hindered by an infection in my leg, the infection is now slowly disappearing.

Because of the exercises and walking there have been several major achievements such as; preparing and cooking my own meals from scratch, putting my socks on without help, having enough confidence to shower and even changing my bed, although I must admit this was very painful, and I had to take a break halfway through.  It is strange that such mundane tasks and actions can become so important.

There is an old adage, which says, “There is no gain without pain”, and this very true as far as my rehabilitation goes.  So far, I have graduated downwards from, near agony – to incredible pain – to severe pain, my next level is pain followed by ache et al, until there is no pain at all.  All I will have to deal with then will be having one leg shorter than the other, regaining the ability to drive my car and phasing back into work.  Then Bingo, I am there!

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Dem Bones – dem dry bones

The thighbone’s connected to the hipbone…

Wednesday 16th January 2013, 160th Birthday of André Michelin, famous for his design and production of car tyres. If I had been wearing a Michelin man suit that day, I would not have ended up in Gould Ward, Musgrove Park Hospital.michelin-man 2

I had been out of the office in the morning, and asked a friend to get me a sandwich; I got back to the office at about ten-to-two. This is when things started to go pear-shaped; while paying Andy what I owed him I dropped a pound coin onto my foot, instead of bending over to pick it up, I lifted my foot to retrieve the coin. As I lifted my foot I fell over with my right leg bent and landing on my right hip; breaking both, my right-femur and hip in the process. If I had been wearing one of André M’s suits I would have bounced back with no damage!
So there I was, lying flat on my back with a right leg that had apparently shrunk by an inch or two. Dave called the ambulance and then passed the phone to Andy, who relayed a load of questions such as; in what direction was my foot pointing; how could I tell them what direction my foot was pointing, I was looking at the ceiling, and could not even see my bloody foot! How was I feeling? I wanted to be unconscious so that I could escape the pain. Could I move my leg? Of course, I could not move my leg; I had just heard and felt my hip and femur break.
On my journey to A&E, I was given Entonox by the ambulance men, without it, that journey would have been impossible. On a pain scale of 1 to 10, mine was easily 100!

The staff of A&E were fantastic; I was treated care, consideration and respect from the moment I arrived to the time when I transferred to Gould Ward. They did everything humanly possible to minimise my pain and discomfort: one of the doctors showed me an X-Ray of my hip (when I saw the X-Ray I could understand why I was in so much pain), and explained what I had done, then told me the ways in which it could be fixed. Which very briefly were: a hip replacement, half-hip replacement or something called a Gamma Nail with possible plate. The nurse, Claire, who I cannot praise highly enough for her care, then talked me through what would happen next and the most likely of the three options, the Gamma Nail. Then it was time to move to Gould Ward, where Claire introduced me to Emma, the Staff Nurse on, Gould Ward, which would be my home for the next two weeks.
Initially I was in A-Bay, bed four, my reference number was therefore A4, the Doctors always referred to me as A4 or Mr Rugg, whereas, the nurses and Health Care Assistants always called me Chris; even when talking to the Doctors. When my brother, Simon, came into see me that evening the very first thing I asked for were my pyjamas; I was dressed in one of those atrocious hospital gowns that tie-up at the back and leave your bum bare – horrible! My first night was one of pain – Morphine, excruciating pain – more Morphine.

Morning finally arrives as does the time for my operation. I was given my anaesthetic and when asked to count from one to ten I do not think I got past the W- in one. They had decided on the Gamma-Nail, those of you who are squeamish please look away now…

A Gamma-Nail is a very long Titanium nail, in my case almost 14 inches, which the surgeon hammers down the centre of your femur until it almost, but not quite reaches the knee. This is held in place by a number of screws, which are screwed horizontally through the femur. I have two near the knee and one, half way down my femur; it also has a screw going down through the top of the femur to the head of the nail, this ensures that the nail is vertically secure. Next, the surgeon has to fix the break by pulling the bone from the ball-joint tightly against the top of the broken femur, so that the two broken parts can grow back into one complete femur again. This is done by using a bolt somewhat similar to those used for fixing shelves etc. to hollow or plasterboard walls. The bolt has a head, which opens up, and the more he tightens the bolt, the tighter it gets against the bone in the ball section and pulls the two pieces together ensuring that the bone mends and knits together. It is all very clever really. The final addition was to use 44 staples to close the three incisions, which had been made in my leg. See simplified diagram of Gamma-Nail operation:

Gamma Nail Diagram

…Okay, those of you who are squeamish can look back now.

After the operation for some reason, I did not have those feelings of nausea and general malaise that are normally associated with waking from a general anaesthetic. I just felt tired, pleasantly relaxed and pain-free I found out later that the ‘pain-free’ part would not last for very long. While I was in this almost euphoric state a good friend came in to see me, I could see by the look on her face how surprised she was at how well I looked and sounded. I just could not stop talking, I felt so cheerful and well; I must apologise to my friend for hardly allowing her to get a word in edgeways I realise now that I was on an anaesthetic high, a superb and marvellous feeling, that, like so many good things, was unfortunately doomed to be short-lived.

Be warned there is more to follow.

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Hardest Hit March, Bristol, 22nd October 2011

Bethan and I bearing the Mind banner

We were there to represent Mind in Taunton and West Somerset and Advocacy in Mind, there were groups from many other charities there including Taunton and district Citizens Advice Bureau, Rethink Mental Illness. Bristol and many others.  There were also hundreds of people representing themselves.  As well as carers and families who were representing those who are too disabled to be there themselves.

Why were we marching?  Because the coalition government is targeting disabled people in

CAB Contingent from Taunton

its welfare reform bill, which is passing through the House of Lords now, this is after, George Osborne said he would ‘place the burden on those with the broadest shoulders’.  How can this be true?  The proposed cuts in benefits are going to lead to many thousands living from hand to mouth and many will be made prisoners in their own homes by the recommended changes to the Disability Living Allowance.

Another effect of the welfare reform bill, which the government seem to have conveniently forgotten or ignored, is the likely result of the financial hardship, which they are imposing on an already anxious minority group.  This will be a dramatic increase in clinical depression, anxiety and stress, thereby increasing the pressure on our already overstretched mental health services and charities.

We had representatives of numerous types of disability from the very visible to the invisible, although our disabilities are different; we all have at least two things in common.  These are the continuing and constant cuts, and threats from the government.  The protesters came from all around the South-West, not only Bristol, there were people from Somerset, Avon, Devon, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Dorset, and probably even further.  Many made a long, arduous and sometimes painful journey to demonstrate and voice their anger in a peaceful way.

In many ways the pain that so many were willing to endure on their way to the march, during the march, and going home after the march: gives the Hardest Hit March even more meaning and impact.  Of course, even though you and I can see this: this government is totally bereft of understanding and empathy when it comes to the pain and suffering of disabled people, this thought will not even cross their minds, and they will not give a jot about the predicament into which they are forcing disabled people.

Any political opinions or comments in this blog are my own and are not necessarily those of Mind in Taunton and West Somerset, National Mind or any other charity I have mentioned.

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Communication, or Lack of Communication?

Communication, or Lack of Communication?

Communication is recognised as an essential human need and, therefore, as a basic human right. Without it, no individual or community can exist, or prosper. We all communicate every day, for the majority of us our main means of communication is the spoken and written word. Last October the government decided to make 2011, The Year of Communication, the name of the project is Hello, and mainly targets children and young people, there is very little for adults. Considering that there are over Twelve Million adults with literacy and communication problems in the United Kingdom (National Literacy Trust 2008), the remit of Hello is far too narrow, and the government were very short sighted when setting the parameters for this project.

I work as a volunteer mental health advocate and my job is to help empower people who have mental health issues to self-advocate, and to help them have their voice heard where they have previously been ignored. Many of my advocacy partners, (a client is known as an Advocacy Partner (AP) because we work together to resolve their issues), feel ignored by public officials, doctors, psychiatrists and a whole host of other individuals and authorities: whose rulings and diagnoses have a very real effect on their lives.

Recently someone said to me ‘I wouldn’t have thought that a person with mental health issues had the aptitude for logical or rational thought’, this comment highlights the stereotypical image, which a very large number of the population have of those of us with mental health issues, and our ability to communicate. It is both an acquired and inherent form of discrimination. This is so ingrained, that it comes as second nature to those who are guilty of it. Unfortunately, this attitude is encountered in every part of the benefits, tax and health systems where far too many have forgotten how, are unable, are in too much of a hurry or too impatient to listen. If no one listens to what is being said, then there is no communication.

The majority of benefit claim forms (ESA, DLA etc.) pay very little regard to the fact that a person can be disabled by a mental illness, instead they concentrate on physical disability. Of course, physical disability should be taken into account but the benefit agencies must make sure that every disability whether caused by a physical or mental illness is regarded as being equally severe, if they do not, then they are plainly guilty of discrimination against those with a mental illness. When filling in the forms APs see the scant attention paid to mental illness and begin to feel depressed and ignored before the Decision Maker reaches a decision. A title that conjures up images of the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine. It is time that those who write the explanatory notes and leaflets, which accompany claim forms, just as those who set the questions on these forms, were both made to consider carefully what messages they are sending to the claimant with their notes, leaflets and questions. As well as the effect those messages, and the manner in which they are written, might have on the claimant.

After the forms come the medical examinations bringing yet more stress and anxiety. Medical examinations such as the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) are more like interrogations during which the claimant is subject to rapid-fire repetitive questions. As an advocate, I have attended WCAs with some of my APs, and on occasions have had to ask for a break to enable the AP to regain their composure. There are questions such as ‘How long can you sit before it becomes uncomfortable, and you have to move?’ followed later by ‘Do you enjoy watching films on television?’ If the claimant says ‘Yes I enjoy watching films, but have to record them, so that I can take a break, because I can only concentrate for a short time’, or ‘Yes, but I have to stand up to watch television’. They are told ‘I only need to know if you enjoy watching films.’ Perhaps it is the cynic in me, but the question about films appears to be another way of finding how long a claimant can sit. The problem is that the question is based on the premise that everyone watches an entire film in one session and that everyone sits down to watch television. This is just one example of a claimant not being allowed to communicate with their examiner or put another way, of not being listened to by the examiner. It would appear that unless an answer fits the relevant ‘box’ on the list of questions, used by the ‘Atos’ examiners, then the answer is unacceptable.

Until all those who have direct, or indirect contact with claimants, are given Mental Health  First Aid training with a compulsory refresher each year, and the claim forms are radically revised, to make them inclusive of mental health issues and mental illness. Then, the current obstacles and barriers to those with mental health issues will remain, meaning that more and more people who may appear to be physically ‘fit for work’ will be forced to try to work, while they remain mentally unfit to do so.

Posted in Benefits, Communication, Conversation, Depression, Disablement, Discrimination, Fatigue, Hope, Judgement, Lack of research, Living, Mental Health, Mental Health First Aid, mental illness, Prejudice, Stigma, Talking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment